Ontario to start COVID-19 vaccinations in long-term care within days: Hillier

·4 min read

TORONTO — Residents in long-term care will start receiving COVID-19 vaccines within days, and more than half of Ontarians — including some in the general population — are slated to be immunized by midsummer, the head of the province's inoculation campaign said Tuesday.

In an update on Ontario's COVID-19 vaccination plan, retired Gen. Rick Hillier said the province expects to receive roughly 50,000 doses of the Moderna shot on Wednesday, and distribute them to long-term care and retirement homes.

Immunizations should begin at those sites within 48 to 72 hours after the vaccine is received, he said as the province marked another record high in new daily COVID-19 infections.

Another 50,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine are expected to arrive in Ontario next month, largely earmarked for remote northern and Indigenous communities, he said.

The province hopes to have inoculated more than a million health-care workers and people in other vulnerable groups by the end of the first phase of its vaccine rollout, which will last through the winter, he said.

Some 15 million vaccines are set to arrive in Ontario during the spring, and while it has not yet been determined where or to whom they will be administered during the second phase of the rollout, about 8.5 million Ontarians should be able to get the shot by midsummer, Hillier said.

"I think we can get to a lot of mainstream Ontario by late July," he said.

"Certainly in Phase 2, we will get at a lot of the people in Ontario who don't have underlying conditions, who are not the most vulnerable, who are not most at risk."

Meanwhile, Premier Doug Ford said he's told his finance minister to return to Canada after news broke that he was on a trip outside the country.

Rod Phillips posted photos on social media in recent weeks that show him at locations in Ontario, but his office said Tuesday the photos had been taken before his departure.

The province continues to urge people to refrain from non-essential travel.

"I have let the minister know that his decision to travel is completely unacceptable and that it will not be tolerated again — by him or any member of our cabinet and caucus," Ford said in a statement Tuesday.

"I have also told the minister I need him back in the country immediately."

Phillips said in a statement that he left on a trip to St. Barts on Dec. 13 after the end of the legislative session. He said he was arranging to return to Ontario immediately and would begin a 14-day quarantine when he arrives.

"I deeply regret travelling over the holidays. It was a mistake and I apologize," Phillips said.

News of the minister's travel came as Ontario reported nearly 4,500 new cases of COVID-19 over two days and a total of 78 new deaths.

The province said 2,553 new infections were recorded Tuesday — a new daily peak — and 1,939 on Monday. Ontario also reported 37 new deaths on Sunday and 41 more on Monday.

Of Tuesday's case tally, 895 were in Toronto, 496 in Peel Region, 147 in Windsor-Essex, 144 in Hamilton and 142 in York Region. Provincial COVID-19 data were not released Monday due to the holiday.

Ontario's associate chief medical officer of health, Dr. Barbara Yaffe, said the province also hit a new high Tuesday for the proportion of COVID-19 tests coming back positive, with a positivity rate of 9.7 per cent.

While it's too early for the spike in new infections to stem from Christmas celebrations, it's likely connected to preparations for the holidays, she said.

Vaccinations in Ontario were also expected to return to full operations Tuesday after being scaled down over the holidays.

The province has said five vaccination clinics were open on Sunday, 10 were back in action Monday and all of them were set to resume immunizations Tuesday.

Hillier said the call to close clinics over Christmas Day and Boxing Day was the "wrong decision."

"We've heard the voices of the people of Ontario, saying 'get on with this,' and that's what we are going to do," he said Tuesday.

More than 14,000 people in the province have received their first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech shot as of Tuesday morning, he said.

The storage requirement for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine means it will be used primarily in hospitals, while the more recently approved Moderna vaccine will go to long-term care homes, congregate settings and more rural communities.

Hillier said he has also asked Health Canada to look into the possibility of administering only a single dose of the Moderna shot, rather than two, saying it would allow vaccinations to proceed much faster.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 29, 2020.

Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press